Ectoplasmic specialization, a testis-specific cell-cell actin-based adherens junction type: Is this a potential target for male contraceptive development?

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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The seminiferous tubule of the mammalian testis is largely composed of Sertoli and germ cells, which coordinate with Leydig cells in the interstitium and perform two major physiological functions, namely spermatogenesis and steroidogenesis respectively. Each tubule is morphologically divided into (i) the seminiferous epithelium composing Sertoli and germ cells, and (ii) the basement membrane (a modified form of extracellular matrix); underneath this lies the collagen fibril network, the myoid cell layer, and the lymphatic vessel, which collectively constitute the tunica propia. In the seminiferous epithelium, of rodent testes each type A1 spermatogonium (diploid, 2n) differentiates into 256 elongated spermatids (haploid, 1n) during spermatogenesis. Additionally, developing germ cells must migrate progressively from the basal to the luminal edge of the adluminal compartment so that fully developed spermatids can be released into the lumen at spermiation. Without this timely event of cell movement, spermatogenesis cannot reach completion and infertility will result. Yet developing round elongating/elongated spermatids must remain attached to the epithelium via a specialized Sertoli-germ cell actin-based adherens junction (AJ) type known as ectoplasmic specialization (ES), which is crucial not only for cell attachment but also for spermatid movement and orientation in the epithelium. However, the biochemical composition and molecular architecture of the protein complexes that constitute the ES have only recently been studied. Furthermore, the signalling pathways that regulate ES dynamics are virtually unknown. This review highlights recent advances in these two areas of research. It is expected that, if adequately expanded, these studies should yield new insights into the development of novel contraceptives targeted to perturb ES function in the testis. The potential to specifically target the ES may also mean that contraceptive action could be achieved without perturbing the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis.